CD Review: A Classic Canaan Christmas

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Average Song Rating: 3.4 (of 5)

Song List: O Holy Night (Happy Goodman Family); O Little Town of Bethlehem (Mercy River Boys); Christmas (Lewis Family); Forgive Me Santa (Jimmie Davis); The First Noel (Rex Nelon Singers); God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Cathedral Quartet); Away in a Manger (Wendy Bagwell and the Sunliters); Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem (Florida Boys); Silent Night (B.J. Thomas); What Child is This? (Inspirations).

Available from: iTunes, Amazon MP3.

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When Word Records announced that it was returning to Southern Gospel by bringing back the Canaan label, observers who remembered the label’s glory days (as well as those who have heard the stories) hoped for two major things: First, that the group would make a serious effort towards releasing top-quality new releases worthy of the Canaan name, and second, that Canaan would open its massive vault and re-issue remastered versions of some of its greatest albums from the past.

Earlier this year, Canaan released several new recordings (by Kim Hopper, the Mike LeFevre Quartet, and Mike & Kelly Bowling) that were generally deemed to have accomplished the first of the two major priorities. A few weeks ago, Canaan delighted many fans by announcing that they would indeed open their vault and reissue remastered classic albums digitally.

A Classic Canaan Christmas, the first in this series, was released in mid-September, the week after the National Quartet Convention. The sound quality is excellent, CD quality. Sound clips can be heard here.

The album itself is an interesting juxtaposition of styles. Where else besides a compilation would you find the Rex Nelon Singers, the Inspirations, and the Lewis Family all on the same project? Speaking of the Inspirations, their song (“What Child is This?”) is one of the project’s most memorable. Mike Holcomb takes the lead, but the vocals are not as noticeable as the soundtrack; it has, among other things, drums and strings—things you don’t find too often on Inspirations projects. The song is a rare chance to catch the Inspirations outside of their typical musical comfort zone.

Most of the songs are new renditions of classic Christmas carols, but there are two new tracks, Jimmie Davis’ narration “Forgive Me Santa,” and the Lewis Family’s “Christmas.”

The Cathedrals’ rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is with instruments, a different rendition than the acapella version they recorded several years later on A Cathedral Christmas Acapella. This rendition has an orchestral accompaniment and is from the Cathedrals’ Kirk Talley era.

The project doesn’t really have any tracks that blow the listener away. Perhaps the contributing groups saved their best performances for their own Christmas projects. Whether that is so or not, the project is solidly enjoyable, a nice collection of Christmas tracks from artists showing how diverse the Southern Gospel spectrum can be. And the audio quality is exceptional, giving fans reason to hope that the series is successful enough that Canaan will eventually remaster and release their entire catalog.

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